No snow? Don’t worry. Just keep on hiking.

There’s still no snow in my neck of the woods. I’m mostly okay with it after last winter’s dump, but a part of me is ready for some white stuff. My kids are definitely ready and keep pestering me to do something about it. Since l still haven’t managed to gain control over the weather, to step down the whining and step up the appreciation of taking things as they come, we’ve been continuing our hiking into the colder weather. I have never let a little chill stop me before, but this is the first time I’ve taken the kids with me. I’ve learned a few things, so here’s an addendum to my hiking with kids rules just for winter hiking.

1) Hike small and familiar. Despite my belief in challenging your kids, this is not the time to hike up the tallest mountain around or forge new paths. Trails can have ice in the most unexpected places, even on days that seem too warm for it, making steep sections potentially treacherous. Add in unpredictable weather and the seriousness of getting lost in the wintertime and you’ll see why I strongly recommend sticking to your well-worn, shorter favorites. My rule of thumb has been to aim for under a mile-and-a-half and to avoid major elevation gains.

2) Hike in front of your kids. I usually like to let the younger set go first so they can set the pace and gain confidence and practice following the trail. But on our first cold weather hike, it only took one tumble down an icy granite section for me to see the problem. Learning to distinguish wet rock from icy rock takes practice, as does developing enough attention span to pay careful attention for the entirety of the hike. By going first, you can use your adult caution for the good of everyone. Plus you are better positioned to lend a hand when necessary.

3) Bring a flashlight. Things get dark fast this time of year and the woods exacerbate the problem. An afternoon hike can turn into an evening stumble in the course of about 15 minutes. It’s no trouble to keep a small flashlight or head lamp in your pack and that one time you need it will make the tiny extra bit of weight worth it.

4) Look for what makes it special. It’s cold and it’s not as pretty as it was six weeks ago, but there are advantages to hiking this time of year. The warming/freezing trend we’ve been having is great for allowing ice crystals to form. Keep an eye out in areas of loose dirt to see if you can find them. Look around granite ledges for the start of ice waterfalls. Admire how much more you can see with the leaves off the trees.

Remember, winter won’t last forever. Better get out and enjoy it.

ice skating

Another plus: trailside skating ponds.

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.